Saturday, July 11, 2015

Judge James Tufts, Western Pioneer, and Governor of Montana from Alstead, New Hampshire

This is the story of James Tufts the brother of my Great-Great Grandfather Timothy Tufts.
James Tufts born in 19 September, 1829 in Charlestown, New Hampshire. He was the son of Jonas Tufts, who was the first Tufts in our line to come to New Hampshire.  Prior to this the family had lived in the Boston suburbs. They descended from Peter the immigrant through the generations of John, Peter, Timothy and Timothy. Jonas moved to Walpole NH by 1823 where he married Sarah Labaree, the granddaughter of the early settler and Indian captive Peter Labaree. Jonas and Sarah's children were Timothy, Sarah, James, Martha, Clarissa, and Susan. Timothy was the father of Professor James Arthur Tufts who came to Exeter, New Hampshire and was the patriarch of my family (my great grandfather).

I’m trying to figure out what drew this young lawyer from western rural New Hampshire to “go west”. I could imagine he went there because there would be work for a young lawyer in the wild west. It appears he was involved in different business adventures so more likely it was the chance of fortune to be made in new territories and gold mining business as a lawyer, business man and politician.

James was probably educated in the local school in Charlestown, then he graduated from Kimball Union Academy in 1851. He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1855. He had no wife to hold him in New Hampshire. His father had done well and bought a fine home at the head of the common in nearby Walpole, New Hampshire. Whatever it was he started in Iowa and then headed out west very soon afterwards. He could have been in Niobrara by 1856. Niobrara is a small village on the Missouri River where the Niobrara River enters. It is in Nebraska today but was then part of the Dakota Territories. This short detail is from History of the State of Nebraska first published in 1882 by The Western Historical Company, A. T. Andreas, Proprietor, Chicago, IL.
In the succeeding September (1856), the first building in Niobrara was erected. It was known as the "Old Cabin," was situated on the bank of the Missouri, and constructed of logs three feet in diameter, designed to subserve the double purpose of protection against the elements and their Indian enemies. The old cabin being built, they returned to Sioux City and Council Bluffs, and invited friends to join them in starting the town of Niobrara. The L'Eau qui Court Company was then formed, consisting of the following members: B. Y. Shelley, President; James Tufts, Vice-President; H. W. Hargis, Secretary; J. Austin Lewis, Treasurer; W. H. Benner, R. R. Cowan, George W. Gregg and Henry Thompson, all of whom became residents of Niobrara; and in addition, a number of prominent gentlemen of other places, as Judge A. W. Hubbard, and M. F. Moore, of Sioux City, and Joseph Holman, of Dakota City. In the fall of 1856, improvements were commenced by the company, but during the following winter the Poncas burned what houses and other buildings had been erected, except the "old cabin" or "fort," into which the settlers had retreated for safety, and in which B. Y. Shelley, R. R. Cowan, M. Huddleston and J. T. Smull passed the winter. During this winter the L'Eau qui Court Company was incorporated, its claim defined, and liberal ferry and bridge privileges guaranteed. The claim of the company comprised almost the entire Niobrara bottom, for a town site, about 3,000 acres in extent. The desire, and even the hope seem to have existed, to build up a very large town in a very short time, in an entirely unsettled country. Niobrara became the county seat during this winter…….
The company failed and The Niobrara Town Company replaced it but the town never blossomed, in part due to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The next quotes comes from History of Dakota Territory. By Kingsbury, George W, Chicago, IL, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co, 1915. Niobrara today is a town of less than one square mile and less than 500 inhabitants.
James presumably set up shop as a lawyer and business man, Indian agent and representative to the territory council. In 1862 James was charged with auditing the military of the territory which he did and is presented in History of Dakota Territory. There was considerable controversy over the audit and while his job was complete and thorough and praised by many, immediately after presenting it, he removed from the area and headed west again.  I also found a record of 1859 where he was appointed postmaster for Niobrara. It is also important to note that the boundary lines in these territories were just being worked out and the Niobrara area became Nebraska, and parts of Idaho to which he went in 1863 eventually became Montana.  The book Illustrated History of Nebraska…. by Julius Sterling Morton, Albert Watkins, George L. Miller Western Pub. and Engraving Company, 1911, states that in May 1863 James, along with a Mr. Hagaman, and  a Mr. Barnum travelled up the Missouri River to the Milk River then overland on horseback to Virginia City arriving in September 1863. That is a trip of 875 miles by road today and much further by river, and up into the mountains.
Virginia City was a pretty wild place in 1863. While the rest of the country was embroiled in the Civil War, this area was erupting with the discovery of gold. James wasted no time though, and was soon elected to the territorial council as mentioned in the Tufts Kinsmen detail below. 

JAMES was graduated from Middlebury College, Vt., in 1855 and studied law with John Stewart in Judge Phelps’s office in Middlebury and with Henry W. Starr in Burlington, Iowa, where he was admitted to the bar in 1857. Moving to Nebraska, he won election as a Probate Judge in 1859 and then to the Nebraska Legislature in 1860. After moving to Dakota Terr. he was Secretary of the Territorial Council during the 1861-62 session and in 1862 served as U. S. Commissioner of Military Claims. Moving to Idaho he represented the Third District of Nez Perce Co. (Virginia City and Fort Laramie, east of the Rocky Mts.) as a Republican in the first Territorial house in 1863, and served as Speaker of the 1863-64 session. He moved to Montana Terr. when Pres. Andrew Johnson named him Territorial Secretary and, in 1868, Pres. Ulysses S. Grant appointed him acting Governor of Montana Terr. and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In 1870 he ran unsuccessfully as a delegate to Congress. He wrote the first book on Montana, which told of the great mineral wealth the region held and it was instrumental in attracting the first large migration of settlers there. After he retired he divided his time between New England and Nebraska.

Many histories of these territories include mention of James and his different capacities of service. There are also many newspaper articles from the area available through different resources on line. Soon he was a member of the Idaho Legislature and in 1867 when the territory became Montana  he was appointed Secretary. Perhaps he left Niobrara like many others in search of the money to be made in gold. The Yankton Press and Dakotan of Yankton South Dakota gave regular reports of his travails and included his letters as reports from the territory. He is also mentioned in the newspapers as having substantial business interests in the gold mines and he could have gone to sell business shares in New York. In one article it describes a tribute dinner for securing the capitol in Helena. A representation of the mining camp decorated the table. The “Gov. Tuft (Tufts) Gulch Capitol District” was honored.

In 1868 he was a key part of the treaties with the Shoshone Indians. Part of that treaty record is available online and quoted here:
SIR: We, W.J. Cullen, commissioner, and James Tufts, secretary of Montana, and acting governor, and superintendent of Indian. affairs, have the honor to make the following report respecting the mixed nation of Shoshone Indians, consisting of the Bannacks and Sheepeaters, and the treaty made and concluded with them near Virginia City, Montana Territory, on the 24th instant. This nation is scattered over a large extent of country westward from the Yellowstone to a mountain between the Bitter Root and Big Hole, running through Montana into Idaho. They are very poor, frequently being in great want both of provisions and clothing, and too weak, as a warlike nation, to contend with the more powerful tribes of Sioux upon the buffalo hunting grounds. They are sparsely supplied with stock, so that their game hunts are confined to very limited boundaries. Many of them depend, in a great measure, for subsistence upon the bounty of citizens in towns, and upon ranches. They are peacefully disposed towards the whites, and very few of them are ever engaged in the larceny or spoliation of the property belonging to the whites. The territory now occupied by the whites in Montana, and over which a land survey district has been extended, is entirely without treaty stipulations for the extinguishment of Indian titles. Many of these people are willing and anxious to work, and only require the encouragement and direction of the United States to cultivate the land and foster habits of thrift and industry, making themselves not only self-supporting but, to a limited extent, contribute to the agricultural development of the country. They are tractable and intelligent, receiving instruction quite readily and with profit. These being the circumstances which surround and govern these people, we have thought it advisable to make a treaty with them. We, therefore, assembled the chiefs and headmen, representing from 500 to 600 of these people, and proposed articles of treaty to them, which were readily and thankfully acceded to and endorsed by them, each provision of the treaty being plainly and fully explained to them.

One other possible reason for James’ excursion to the west comes from a detractor who wanted to see him replaced as Secretary of the Territory. In The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 19: July 1, 1868-October 31, 1869 the following excerpt appears.
On March 30, Robert E. Fisk, editor, Helena Herald, et al., Helena, Montana Territory, wrote to USG. "We the undersigned committee of Soldiers of the late volunteer union army, appointed at a convention of Soldiers & Sailors held at Helena in Montana Territory on the 9th day of Oct last, to represent the Soldiers & Sailors interest of that territory at Washing¬ ton City at this time, beg leave to submit the following reasons why we ask the removal of James Tufts, the present Secretary of Montana Territory Mr. Tufts was appointed Secretary by President Johnson, and is not in harmony with the Republican party, In the distribution of Government patronage he gives preference to democrats and disloyal men. He was not in the service at any time during the late war, but on the contrary went into the Territories to avoid its dangers,"—LS (3 signatures), ibid. Related papers are ibid. On April 3, USG nominated Wiley S. Scribner as secretary, Montana Territory. On April 15,1870

After his unsuccessful bid for Congress, James returned to New Hampshire. In 1872 he brought my Great-Grandfather to Phillips Exeter Academy. My Great-Grandfather James Arthur Tufts I was presumably named for his Uncle Jim. James Arthur Tufts diaries exist of only a few years but contain descriptions of Uncle Jim traveling with him and going to Walpole from Alstead (in sleigh or wagon) to “carry” Uncle Jim to the train. Judge James is noted in the Walpole NH census in 1880 but returned to Niobrara later in life and took up farming. Still never marrying, he passed in 1884 at age 54, of consumption. He is buried in L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery, Niobrara,
Knox County, Nebraska.


  1. There will be a couple items with Tuft's signature posted on Ebay on 12/31/17 at around 6pm. (Montana Territory). I wnated you to know. Jacoby

  2. Thanks Jacob, I'll share it on the blog facebook page for exposure